Alternative Teaching Certification in Special Education: Rationale, Concerns, and Recommendations

By Quigney, Theresa A. | Issues in Teacher Education, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Alternative Teaching Certification in Special Education: Rationale, Concerns, and Recommendations


Quigney, Theresa A., Issues in Teacher Education


Introduction

Perhaps one of the most controversial topics in the field of teacher education today is what constitutes an effective preservice program for preparing individuals to instruct students in the twenty-first century. Questions concerning the content of such teacher education programs as well as the most resourceful method of delivery of this content have arisen. A discussion of the merits of the approaches to teacher certification has also been compounded by issues relating to legal mandates such as the "highly qualified teacher" provision of the No Child Left Behind Act and job market realities, including teacher shortages in key instructional areas, one of which is special education, the focus of this article.

In response to such issues, alternative routes to teacher certification have appeared in various formats and levels of rigor. There has been much discussion regarding the benefits of these alternative approaches to certification in comparison with the more traditional route of university- sponsored programs of specific requirements and coursework.

Some of the advantages of alternative certification (AC) approaches reported in the professional literature include the ability to attract (a) a more diverse field of educators (Humphrey & Wechsler, 2007; Zeichner & Schulte, 2001), and (b) educators in areas of shortage such as science, mathematics (Honawar, 2007), and special education (Sindelar, Daunic, & Rennells, 2004), which assists in fulfilling crucial areas of personnel need (Burstein & Sears, 2008). Proponents of alternative routes to certification also emphasize the field-based preparation component in the programming (Humphrey & Wechsler) as well as the appeal of such approaches to more mature, capable individuals (Burstein & Sears) who are interested in teaching but not doing so through the more traditional methods for certification (Laczko-Kerr & Berliner, 2003).

In regard to the efficacy of these alternative approaches and/or the teachers certified through these programs, it appears that "research on the effects of teacher preparation programs with reduced requirements prior to teaching is scarce" (Boyd, Grossman, Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2005, p. 2). Of the research that is available, the findings are often inconsistent (Humphrey & Wechsler, 2007) and inconclusive (Constantine et al., 2009). Some findings suggest that teachers certified through AC have effects on student performance comparable to those of traditionally trained teachers, while other studies tend to underscore the superiority of traditional teacher preparation options.

In their comparison of teachers prepared through alternative and traditional approaches, measured by instructional behaviors, student performance, and teacher perceptions, Miller, McKenna, and McKenna (1998) reported no major differentiation between the two groups. Goldhaber and Brewer (2000) found that students in mathematics who had teachers certified through an emergency route performed no more poorly than students whose teachers were credentialed through a more standard approach.

Nevertheless, special education research provides examples of the inadequacy of AC as compared to traditional teacher preparation. In a study of traditionally licensed teachers and teachers holding emergency provisional licenses, Nougaret, Scruggs, and Mastropieri (2005) found that, across all indicators on a teacher rating scale, those teachers licensed through a traditional route were assessed more favorably than were those with an emergency licensure. In their comparative research of traditional teacher preparation, district-university collaboratives, and add-on approaches at the district level, Sindelar et al. (2004) found that traditional preparation program completers surpassed other teachers on numerous criteria related to instruction. Further, in their study of personnel who teach students with emotional disturbance, Henderson, Klein, Gonzalez, and Bradley (2005) observed that these teachers were more liable to be certified through alternative programming than were other special education teachers and that they perceived themselves to be less competent in instructional activities, other than those associated with the assessment of and attending to behavioral issues. …

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